Analysing Your Show Jumping Performance
Observation is the most common method we, as riders, use to analyse our competition performance. However, studies have shown that observations are both unreliable and inaccurate. Human memory is limited and it is almost impossible to remember all the events that took place before, during and after each class. Add in any emotions and how you felt about your performance and you may find what you thought happened and what actually happened are quite different.
Even asking your coach or trainer to provide feedback may not be objective enough. Research suggests that experienced coaches are more likely to detect differences between two performances than novice coaches – exactly what you would expect – EXCEPT these experienced coaches saw differences even when none existed. They also tended to be very confident in their decisions even when wrong. Now I’m not saying don’t listen to your coach or trainer. What I am saying is that there is also a place for a more objective and scientific approach to analysing your performance.
What’s the purpose?
The purpose of performance analysis is to examine outcomes (what’s going well, what’s not going well and what needs changing) and the factors that influence those outcomes. In show jumping, an outcome might be the negotiation of each jump and the factors that influence its successful completion e.g. the turn to the fence or the take-off point.
One of the most useful tools for analysing performance is the camera. Recordings provide a back-up system to support or refute any observations that you made about the competition. It tells you exactly what happened which may or may not tally with your perception of what happened.
You’re probably already in the habit of recording your rounds and doing some form of analysis just by thinking about why you got the result you did and what could be improved on. However, this recording does not give an account of what went on before you went into the arena and often it is the peripheral things that have the greatest impact on performance:
· What you ate or drank
· What was said to you by others (coach, family, friends, other competitors)
· What you said to yourself
· Length, quality and content of your warm-up
· General organisation and planning of the day
· What you did (e.g. watch other competitors or listen to other coach’s advice)
· How you learnt the course
· When you learnt the course
It’s very powerful to be able to see for yourself the change in your body language, confidence levels and self-talk when you have, for example, watched other competitors in the same class. It is quite normal to be unaware of how you are affected by the things you do or say before entering the arena. It is also quite normal to be adamant that you didn’t do, or say, or behave, or react in that way so visual evidence can be very revealing!
For videoing to be effective and allow you to identify as many influencing factors as possible ensure that you capture as much as possible – your preparation, warm-up and canter round before the bell as well as the course itself.
What about how I felt on the day?
Subjective measures such as considering how you felt the round went can be a useful source of immediate feedback. Take particular note of what you were thinking about or saying to yourself during the warm-up, prior to going into the arena, during the course and riding out of the arena. The answers can provide an insight into your psychology at these times and may give clues as to why a particular outcome occurred.
Beware! Research has shown that free reports (unstructured discussion) can result in many emotions and thoughts being added or omitted. This is particularly true if there is a time delay, such as discussing the event at your next training session. A more structured approach is achieved by writing down or recording your thoughts, observations and feelings after you leave the arena. Do this for each class and then compare what you wrote with the video of that day and the eventual outcome – successful or otherwise. What did you notice?
How do I analyse my performance in the long term?
As its simplest level performance analysis is about noticing what happened and asking questions about what influenced what happened. Whilst it is useful to do this on a class by class basis it is also helpful to identify any patterns or recurring themes over a series of competitions. Areas to consider include:
· Was the turn to the fence off the right or left rein?
· Was the take off point to the left, the right or the centre of the fence?
· Was the jump successfully or unsuccessfully negotiated (clear, stop, knock down)?
Whilst this may seem quite time consuming, by objectively looking at each fence you jumped, how you jumped it and what the outcome was over a number of classes or indeed the whole season, you are able to identify trends.
Analysis of a series of rounds might, for example, reveal that off the left rein you are twice as likely to have a fence down than off the right rein. Armed with this information you could decide to include exercises in your training sessions to work on improving straightness off a left turn to increase the likelihood of a successful negotiation of the jump. Alternatively, you might use this information to decide on your jump off strategy. Giving yourself more room and time to set up on the left rein and taking a few more risks on the right rein.
Other factors you could consider:
· Ground / surface conditions – does this have any impact on the likelihood of you achieving a successful outcome?
· Types of fences – are you more likely to have faults at a particular type or combination of fences?
· Speed – are you more or less successful when you focus on keeping a flow and rhythm round a course rather than tight turns or short strides into fences?
· Number of strides taken – are you setting the horse up too much and leaving yourself vulnerable to time faults or are you cutting corners and distances by asking for longer strides or “fliers”? How is this affecting the outcome?
· Canter lead – Does the canter lead influence the outcome of the fence being jumped? Do you land on one particular lead more often than the other? How does this influence the next jump?
· Warm-up time and routine – when you’ve done well in a class what warm-up routine did you use? How long was the warm-up? How much time did you spend in each pace? How many and what type of fences did you jump?
· Your position – is there any correlation between the outcome and the position of your leg, hands, body, weight or head on the approach, over the fence or on landing?
This type of in-depth analysis takes time, commitment and persistence but ultimately if you want to increase your likelihood of success it’s worth it and you might be surprised at what you find!
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen”
John Wooden, Basketball player and coach